Time changes everything, including wines. Over time, wine can change its aroma, color, and flavor. Whether the changes will be good for the wine or not is another matter. Here’s an overview of what happens to wine as it ages.
Aging and flavor
When wine is young, it has all of its basic flavors, like apricot in Viognier, plum in Merlot, grassiness in Sauvignon Blanc, or cherry in Sangiovese wine. Furthermore, it is possible to find secondary notes related to the winemaking process, such as the vanilla flavor of oak.
As it ages, we take note of its tertiary notes or certain flavors derived from its development. Often time also brings out flavors previously hidden by the main notes, such as herbal notes, mushroom, honey, earth, stone, and hay.
All that begs the question – what causes the changes? Well, wine is never static. Alcohol and acids react together to create new compounds, over and over. Once one compound is dissolved, another one is formed differently, and it is an almost endless process.
When we open a bottle, we catch the win in the middle of some process. If you were to open the bottle earlier or later, then it would be another process with new nuances. What remains constant is the proportion of sugars, acids, and alcohol. It is the flavors that continuously change.
Aging and wine color
Slow oxidation is the visible part of an evolving wine. For example, white wine can evolve from golden or pale lemon to brown or amber. As red wines age, oxidation moves color toward brown or tawny hues. The pace of the oxidation depends on how much air is left in the bottle after it was sealed.
Natural cork allows only minimal oxygen exchange, and it is the primary reason why almost all age-worthy wines are bottled under cork. But then again, cork is a natural product, and you can’t count on any uniformity. As a result, there can be quite a bottle variation, even in the same case of wine.
Aging and texture development
The texture of wines also tends to change. Reds tend to get smoother, while dry wines are prone to become more oily and viscous. This is a result of the phenolic compounds such as tannins that deteriorate over time.
When the wine is young, those compounds repel one from another and are small enough to stay suspended in the wine. As time goes by, and the wine ages, their charge loosens up, and they begin to combine. They tend to make chains that are much heavier and larger. The moment those chains become too big, they fall out from their suspension as sediment. Certain red wines throw heavy sediment, while others none at all.
How to tell if an older wine is still good to drink?
To tell whether an older wine is good to drink is as same as with any wine. First of all, make sure it is at its correct drinking temperature. Then pour some, swirl it a bit, and smell it. If it smells right, take a sip. If it tastes good, then go ahead, drink. Red wines that have thrown heavy sediment need to be stood upright for around 24 hours before opening the bottle.
How to properly store wine for aging?
Ideally, the bottles need to be stored in a cool and dark space. The temperature needs to be between 53 and 57°F. High temperatures can speed up the chemical reaction and cause it to “cook”. That can make the wine taste baked and mushy. Darkness is essential because the ultraviolet rays in daylight can easily spoil the wine.
Why do wines age?
Certain wines need time to reveal what they are truly about. Once their fruit flavor settles down, a new door is opened to a set of magical flavors. Thing is their tertiary notes tend to be more complex and highly rewarding than their original, one-dimensional notes.
For example, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are indicative of cigar box and tobacco leaf. Nebbiolo turns heady with notes of rose and sour cherry. Pinot Noir is known for its notes of earth and fallen leaves.
At their peak, historic wines stand witness to time and place. Through their taste, you can feel the dry heat of a hot summer or the restraint of a cold winter. Tasting aged wine from a famous winemaker can be no short of a transcendent experience.
Which wines should be left to age?
There is a common misconception that only the finest varieties of wines are suitable to age. However, that’s not true as any well-made wine can be aged. Even most entry-level wines can age from three to five years. Wines with a decent concentration of flavor, texture, and balanced alcohol levels, should age well.
White wines that could greatly benefit from aging are Chenin Blanc, Furmint, Rioja, Chardonnay, Albarino, Semillon, Garganega, and others. Fine examples of red wines that age well are Riserva (Italy), Reserva (Portugal), Gran Reserva (Spain), and Garrafeira (Portugal).